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Tips + Trends

Travel by Train: 6 Unforgettable Journeys by Rail in Europe and Africa

Simply put, traveling by train is a smart choice: easier than buses, more relaxing than driving and far more sustainable than flying. An added bonus? In many destinations, riding the rails is also an unbridled joy — a chance to explore like (and hang out with) the locals or simply sit back and admire breathtaking scenery.

Hop on these epic train routes in Europe and Africa, and settle in for an incredible journey. As always, check for travel guidelines and closures before planning your trip.

Western Europe: London to Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam

Why limit yourself to London when you can explore Europe’s greatest cities by rail? Eurostar trains connect St. Pancras Station — in the U.K.’s capital — with Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Lille and Rotterdam, speeding beneath the English Channel, a whopping 246 feet below sea level, in just 20 minutes.

With no luggage limit or tricky airport transfers, you’ll disembark in the city center in just a few hours, ready for your next adventure. Will you take a sunset cruise on Paris’ River Seine, devour a chocolate tour of Brussels (its cocoa shops are legendary) or discover art masterpieces at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum? The decision is yours.

Scotland: West Highland Line

A map of the Scotland train route
(Illustration: Yeji Kim)

Herculean peaks, emerald valleys and a constellation of glittering lochs: The West Highland Line weaves through some of Scotland’s most glorious scenery and crosses the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct — the 21-arch railway bridge that starred in four “Harry Potter” movies.

Board the train in Glasgow, and marvel as the city’s urban sprawl yields to pure mountainous splendor. The train is catnip for hikers, cyclists, foodies and thrill-seekers, who hop off at remote villages such as Ardlui and Tyndrum in search of Highlands adventures — but the view from the window is just as exhilarating. At Fort William, the tracks head westward to Mallaig, where ferries depart for the wild Isle of Skye.

Multiple trains run along this route, including the charming Jacobite steam locomotive, which chugs between Fort William and Mallaig during summer.

Switzerland & Italy: Bernina Express

A map of Switzerland & Italy
(Illustration: Yeji Kim)

The beauty of the Bernina Express changes dramatically with the seasons as it chugs along its four-hour journey between Chur (Switzerland) and Tirano (northern Italy). In the summer, the train weaves through wildflower meadows and forest-filled valleys with sun-kissed views of quaint mountain villages; but in the winter, that same Alpine landscape is painted pristine white — a vision of snowcapped peaks and ancient glaciers.

However, the route’s human-made wonders steal the show: the immense Landwasser Viaduct, a six-arched bridge that spans towering mountainsides, and the looping Brusio Spiral Viaduct, a feat of engineering that’s more than 100 years old.

Don’t be fooled by the “Express” name: This graceful train seems to savor every twist and turn of its surroundings — and in its panoramic carriages with extra-large windows, you’ll certainly do the same.

Eastern Europe: Budapest, Hungary, to Split, Croatia

A map of train routes in Europe
(Illustration: Yeji Kim)

Depending on what time you catch the Adria InterCity train from Budapest to Split, you might just pass Hungary’s Lake Balaton in time for sunset. With its bobbing yachts and tranquil waters, this vast waterway is a picturesque backdrop for the train’s journey from Hungary to Croatia’s coast, along with mountain views and sunflower-filled fields.

The entire route takes 14 hours in total, in state-of-the-art carriages offering various berth styles and classes — but if time is on your side, consider taking the indirect local trains via Zagreb, Croatia. With its twin-spired cathedral, buzzing cafés and vibrant museums (including the infamous Museum of Broken Relationships), this is a stop-off you won’t want to miss.

Egypt: Cairo to Aswan

A map of Egypt train routes
(Illustration: Yeji Kim)

Tracing the route of the River Nile, the train line between Cairo and Aswan isn’t just the easiest way to travel between the two cities — it’s utterly spectacular, too. From your seat you’ll spy riverside farms, ramshackle villages and lush fruit orchards and enjoy a captivating window into local life — in short, it’s a safe and convenient way to explore.

The journey lasts around 13 hours, with VIP Express trains offering the fastest and most polished service. Skip the overnight sleeper train and enjoy the daytime panoramas instead — though if you must snooze, book the cabin’s top bunk for a smoother night’s sleep.

Morocco: Tangier to Casablanca

A map of train routes in Morocco
(Illustration: Yeji Kim)

You don’t have to choose between the bustling medina and beaches of Tangier or the magnificent architecture and hammams of Casablanca: On the Al Boraq high-speed train, you can have them all! Africa’s fastest railway launched in 2018, connecting the far north of Morocco (Tangier) with its sea-breezy west coast, traveling between these two fascinating cities at up to 200 mph — a trip lasting just two hours and ten minutes.

Amazingly, one-way fares cost little more than the price of two takeaway coffees — and for a swankier service, you can upgrade to first class (still only around $28 each way). The journey is just a little longer than the direct intercity flights, but it’s immeasurably more fun, and you’ll see a whole new side of Morocco, too.

Parts of Morocco were heavily damaged in a September 2023 earthquake. Please check local travel advisories before planning a trip to the region.